Updated: Mar 16, 2020
Interview with Alexandra Waring
We caught up with Ally Waring early on in Series 1 of the Greater than 11% podcast covering her then role as Senior Strategist at global advertising agency RAPP. We also discussed her initial struggles to break into the industry, her love of fashion and her determination to learn Russian on top of Spanish and Portuguese whilst at university. Epic!
A lot has happened since then. Having taken some time off to go travelling, she changed jobs and is currently working for Iris in the capacity of Senior Strategist. And she has built some muscle, quite literally.
Ally competed in her first Strongman Competition in November 2019, which saw her lifting huge tyres, running with kegs and pulling a truck with her bare hands. Beyond epic!
Renee: Ally we recorded your episode in December 2018, so just over a year ago and in that relatively short time you’ve undertaken a physical transformation. I saw a video on Instagram recently where you lift and run with a 80kg sand bag - that is a hell of a lot of weight. What was the spark that lead you to train and ultimately compete in the Strongman?
Ally: Thank you!!
It’s been a journey. In my first role as an account manager in London, I burnt out. Really badly. And my body took a lot of the toll. I’m an emotional eater and do so as a means of coping. So I piled on weight which damaged not just my health and well-being but my overall confidence. It wasn’t until I started exercising again that I found my groove with strategy - it made me walk taller, run faster and not just in the literal sense!
One day, whilst trying something new, I found myself at a hollowed-out warehouse in Vauxhall with obnoxiously orange walls and neon green astroturf on the floor, surrounded by weightlifting kit you’d only ever find on The World’s Strongest Man. And I was immediately hooked.
R: The colour scheme itself sounds pumped!
In body building, weight-lifting, the Strongman etc., the focus is primarily on the physical but I’m curious as to what it gives you beyond fitness, strength and amazing guns? (Biceps / triceps that is, for anyone that just did a double take).
A: In Strongman we call them #gunz. 😝
I suppose it’s not the most ‘normal’ thing to do with my time. But I think it’s what gives me a fresh perspective. And helps me approach things – briefs, clients, meetings, pitches – differently.
R: Ok - I just did a quick insta #gunz - I was pleasantly surprised to see heaps of women sharing selfies of their biceps in addition to the men.
So learning and understanding what we need to do to care for ourselves is unique to each individual and as you’ve shared - your strength training is your way to self-care. What does it give you in terms of wellbeing beyond the ‘fitness’ factor?
A: Headspace. If you could ever spend a day inside my head, believe me, you’d also massively enjoy smashing the proverbial out of a tractor tyre.
But on a serious note, it stops the cogs whirring. Which is actually a key part of creative thinking. If we spend all of our time chewing over the particulars of a brief and over-rationalising them, we’ll talk ourselves out of something that could have been really amazing.
Allowing myself to pause and STOP thinking (even if it’s just for an hour or so in a training session) gives my brain a break. And gives me a more lateral approach to resolving problems.
R: Brain break - it is so true. I’ve been building up my running over the past six months and I’ve recently got to that point where I’m loving it because I can push myself, hit my target and enjoy not mulling things over in my mind. Then there is the adrenalin high post exercise - so good!
So in your case, building up muscle and strength takes time, persistence and consistency - you are constantly on the edges of your comfort zone in a bid to progress. Has this state of mind - pushing beyond the limits of what you know you can do - contributed to how you approach and use your creativity?
A: It certainly helps put things in context.
We often hold ourselves back from doing things out of fear, and mainly that fear is of failure. In Strongman, you can’t allow yourself to think like that because otherwise you might hurt yourself or make yourself look stupid for even attempting a 200kg lift. You have to go headfirst. Throw yourself in the deep end. So in some respects it’s helped me look fear in the eye. What if the ad bombs? What if the client hates it? What if someone thinks I sound (god forbid) like an idiot, in a creative briefing?
Sod it. What if it all works out? And you make the 200kg lift.
It feels good :)
R: 200kg lift - Ally that is amazing! I was just thinking about what I could lift - I have no idea… 30kg?
So have you had any unexpected self-reflections arise as a result of training and competing?
A: I’m incredibly tough on myself. As a result I also find I have really high expectations of other people, which I try and channel into empowering others, rather than showing any disappointment I may have!
These truths sound ugly, but I’m glad I’ve identified them so I can turn them into positives and keep them in mind when they start to rear their heads.
R: I had that same realisation a couple of years back - actually through therapy. Having very tough, I’d even say severe, expectations of myself became evident when I began managing a large team. It was actually super positive working to empower others and I became kinder to myself.
In the Strongman training process, have there been any ‘wanting to curl into a ball and cry’ moments?
A: All the time. But the trick is never to end on a bad lift.
I recently did an Olympic weightlifting course in Cyprus and with it being such a mental sport they teach you never to walk away from a bar you can’t lift. Reduce the weight, and go again. Remind your body (and your brain) what it feels like to make a lift. Give yourself that good feeling. And you’re more likely to come back and try again.
R: Oh my god that is genius - that is definitely something I could apply to my life - rather than feeling frustrated and mulling something over for days - trying it again in that moment, despite not achieving the original goal!
It is a commitment to compete at the level you are competing at - do you ever have days when you are like ‘I just want to stay in bed’?
A: Yes. And in truth, sometimes I don’t get out of bed. I went through a phase of ‘torturing’ myself with the mantra ‘if you don’t go consistently then you won’t get any better’. But when your body aches, you’re on your period, you’ve had an argument with someone and you’re not in the right headspace - you will do more harm than good to yourself. And you’re not going to have a good session in that case. You’ll feel worse after than you do now, and that’s really not the point of doing any of this, is it? (Welcome to my brain).
R: What’s your advice to someone considering strength training or just wanting to push themselves beyond what they think they can achieve?
Read ‘Lift Yourself’ by Laura Hoggins. She’s one of my coaches and she’s effing incredible.
Take a mate with you to a class and make a pact to keep going together.
Avoid Crossfit. (It’s all ‘goals’ and very little focus on form. A lot of injuries in that sport).
Try something new. Whether that’s strength training, rock climbing or paper maché. Remind yourself that just because you don’t think you can do something, it should never be the reason why you don’t do it. Allow yourself to try and just have fun.
R: What has training for and competing in the Strongman given you?
A: The best thing it’s given me is my confidence back. And friends who will never let you beat yourself up or knock yourself down. The community at my gym is first class as well 🙏
R: You are so bloody awesome and inspiring. Thanks for being so open and honest about your process and journey! I’m seriously considering purchasing some kettle bells - could do with a little more definition in my #gunz 💪
You can find and connect with Ally via LinkedIn and instagram / twitter: @allylovessloths.